Dr. Bronner’s and Henry David Thoreau: a Great Soap, a Great Connection

•April 4, 2021 • Leave a Comment

I deliberately wore my Henry David Thoreau t-shirt today. That conscious decision was the end result of a thought process and memory cascade that began in the shower after my morning workout.

Early last year, I decided to return to using Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap (Peppermint). I was tired of the heavy, perfumed odor of most body washes, thought more about the questionable additives in those products, and decided that this concentrated soap would also be a more economical choice. Overall, I’ve been happy with the outcomes–feeling better about what I’ve been putting on my body and the money I’ve been saving. Each 32-ounce bottle lasts approximately five months.

This morning, I noticed that five months was up–and actually had to add a little water to the bottle to coax out the last of the soap and complete my shower. While finishing up, began thinking about the soap–not just the somewhat bizarre, All-One-God-Faith or Moral ABCs label that used to disintegrate before the bottle was empty–but the first time I ever saw that iconic bottle.

I plumbed my mind and settled on an approximate time and very specific place that I first encountered the soap. I had always loved the outdoors–growing up family tent camping–and by eighth grade had started doing some weeklong backpacking trips through New Jersey’s United Methodist Camps and Conferences. The first trip had been to Shenandoah National Park–the second to the Presidential Range of New Hampshire’s White Mountains. I fell in love with the White Mountains and my third trip brought me back–I think during the summer between tenth and eleventh grades.

The trip leader had changed for this hike and there was a new route planned that took us on some different trails and huts. One of the new spots we stayed was the Zealand Falls Hut. I remember arriving early in the day, getting restless and a small group of us deciding to make the short hike over to the supposedly scenic Thoreau Falls. The hike was a no-brainer for me–as I’d already read Walden and a number of essays by Thoreau. I couldn’t pass up the chance to hike to a cascade named for the writer who seemed to so well capture my love of nature, the tonic of outdoor exploration and unrestrained individualism.

I was not disappointed when we arrived at the top of Thoreau Falls–the rocky cascade dropped below in chunky, boulder-strewn steps and revealed an amazing view through the trees and across the wilderness. After hiking down to explore, we returned to the top to relax on the rocks in the afternoon sun and feast on beef stick, cheese and crackers.

It was there that I encountered an older girl/young woman near the creek at the top of the falls. I was a shy teen and here was a girl outside and hiking and being friendly to me. Honestly, I don’t remember whether she was washing herself, some lunch dishes or both. And I’m not sure if that’s because it was so long ago or because I was smitten–either way, I know I don’t recall that detail. The detail I do remember is that she was using soap from a bottle with a text-covered, blue and white bottle.

Noticing my quizzical looks, she handed me the bottle. My eyes didn’t know where to focus–there was so much text. There were snippets about Thomas Paine, tent, sandal and soap-maker Hillel, instructions for good living and a list of uses for the soap. Though written in an a somewhat eccentric style, I couldn’t help but agree with many of the expressed sentiments.

That’s all I recall of the encounter. And through it all, I honestly remember the soap more than the girl. It made enough of an impression on me to seek it out to use on my own future backpacking trips–and, when I stopped backpacking for a time, to use it in real life. Yet, like my backpacking excursions, my use of Dr. Bronner’s also eventually stopped–until I brought it back into my shower and my life last year.

Even before I was done drying off after today’s shower, I knew I had to wear my Thoreau t-shirt–the memory was that strong–made me feel that good. As I stood there, towel in hand, I also realized that prior to getting in the shower, my wife had let me know that we were going to the local Whole Foods to return something to Amazon. At that moment, everything seemed to come together in my mind–I would most definitely wear my shirt to the store to purchase my Dr. Bronner’s soap.

This is a t-shirt I wear every other week or so at least, so my wife thought nothing of me wearing it today. Maybe she thought I was trying to be a little extra intellectual because later that day we were going to see the Oscar-nominated short live-action films at the movie theater. But she didn’t ask or comment, so I kept the decision and the memories to myself–until now.

WHALE AND DOLPHIN Conservation in my first two novels

•March 16, 2021 • Leave a Comment

NEW FRONT COVER AUGUST 2018 WITH SILVER MEDALWhen I started writing Wendall’s Lullaby (or The Built in Smile as it was originally known) in 2007 I had the grand idea of writing a book from the perspective of a dolphin. I had pages of notes and research on dolphin intelligence and communication but very little in the way of a plot or characters. Somehow the idea morphed into a thriller that combined a number of mass-stranding dolphin tragedies with national defense conspiracies, secret extra-governmental groups and terrorism.

Of course, there were some conservation issues underlying the obvious story–whether the military use of certain technologies was negatively impacting cetaceans and whether the militarization of marine mammals was ethical or even necessary. My hope was that readers (while also being entertained) would be made aware that those are real world issues and the need for them to be examined and addressed.

With my follow-up novel, Delphys Rising, I decided to take things a step further–to give the conservation issues aCOVER FINAL FRONT ONLY higher profile within the plot. I was still interested in the military’s continuing use of dolphins, but also in more troubling issues like the dolphin-drive hunts in Taiji, Japan, and the Faroe Islands and the continued whaling of nations like Japan, Iceland and Norway. When the dolphins in the novel are finally able to communicate with humans, they not only object to this horrendous practices, but to the myriad of negative impacts that humanity has had on the oceans they call home (and that also support our species). How does this objection play out for the dolphins and the human scientists working with them? How does it play out for the world? Well, you’ll just have to read Delphys Rising to find out.


Kip, a Cow, and a Kayak

•February 13, 2021 • Leave a Comment

“What’s that in the water?” Gary pointed to a few “lumps” in the water about 20 yards out and to the right of the boat ramp. Was it just a strangely shaped log? Maybe the tide had exposed a couple of algae-covered rocks? The muddy water was oddly swirling around whatever it was-but there was no noticeable current anywhere else. It couldn’t be something stationary.

Soon it was obvious that the “object” was moving from right to left-and that it would be adjacent to the boat ramp in no time. “It’s a cow!” Gary laughed. I smiled. New Zealand has abundant livestock and earlier in the week while mountain biking along the coast I’d come face to face with a stubborn bull on the trail. It wasn’t anything too new–I’d spooked some cattle while biking on a friend’s ranch back home in Florida. But, I’d never seen a cow swimming.

Shrugging, I continued with the task at hand-situating myself in the Ruahine Ocean X. It was my last day in the country and I was anxious to get out in one of the New Zealand-designed sea kayaks specifically made for adventure racing. Just as I sealed the spray skirt a strange, rusty trailer backed noisily down the boat ramp. Two “blokes” (that’s what Gary called them) climbed out of the truck and headed down the ramp. I paddled away from the shore.

“Here girlie! Here girlie!” The gruffer-looking one called in an amplified, but gentle voice. The other ripped a handful of long grass from the side of the boat ramp and started waving it in the air while whistling. “Girlie” kept right on swimming.

I was a few yards offshore and looked at the cow swimming away from the ramp. I looked at Gary and an uncontrollably huge smile took over my face. Looking back at me, he nodded. I tapped the rudder pedal and turned the Ocean X towards “Girlie”–paddling off in fast pursuit. Gary turned to the ranchers and offered my help.

The kayak accelerated nicely and I maneuvered the bow in front of her head just as she was about to swim into a more remote and rugged cove. “Girlie” stopped and turned. At the base of the steep shoreline bluff she found some more secure footing-loping and lunging in chest-deep water. With a couple of quick sweep strokes I was paddling alongside, keeping her from swimming back into open water. The boat ramp was still a fair distance away and a number of downed trees were lying in her path.

Legs trembling “Girlie” lumbered over a large log and stopped. By this point she was more than a little tired and looking (if cows can be) frustrated. Her owners continued to coax her with whistles and grass, but “Girlie” wasn’t moving.

Looking back at Gary, I shrugged. “Give her a push!” he yelled. I hesitated. This was a young cow, but it wasn’t small. It weighed well more than the kayak and me combined. “Give her a push!” The owners quieted and looked on as I positioned the kayak perpendicular to the cow and just behind its tail end, planted my paddle and rotated my hips. “Thump.” Nothing. I tapped again. Nothing. On the fourth try “Girlie” got the message and shakily clamored back over the big log, but in the wrong direction.

Lunging along the shoreline at the base of the bluff, she was again moving fast toward the more remote cove. I paddled hard and cut her off. “Girlie” and I reached another impasse. Her eyes were focused on the cove. I wanted to herd her back the other way, but she just stood there in belly-deep water. While sitting alongside the cow with the bow of the Ocean X angled just enough to block her path, I began to have doubts about the effectiveness of my efforts.

I looked hard at “Girlie”. She turned her head-looking directly at me with her big brown eyes. I was rapt. Maybe I really could help. “Wham!” Broadsided! “Girlie” lunged, rammed, and drove me a good four feet sideways. Before I could shake off the surprise, she loped along the bluffs into the remote cove.

Upright, in one piece, and smiling large, I looked over at Gary. He waved me back to the boat ramp. “It’s three now. I’ll meet you back here at four.” I had to leave for the airport at 5:30–time to test the kayak, not the cow’s patience.

“Four,” I repeated and paddled toward the wider, wilder portion of the bay to better test the Ocean X in wind and waves.

It maneuvered well in tailwinds and was stable in some big side chop. I even managed to surf a few huge boat wakes. The boat was certainly remarkable enough to warrant a report to paddlers back home. An hour later, Gary was waiting for me at the boat ramp. “How’d you like the boat?”

I scanned the shoreline for the errant cow. She was gone.

“Impressive.” Excited as I was with the Ocean X, I couldn’t wait to get back to the US and tell the tale of Kip, the cow and the kayak.


Silver Fern Flag, New Zealand. Close Up.

This essay was originally published on my blog in 2009. I was reminded of it by an author friend who was discussing New Zealand. It’s one of my fondest memories of a trip I was lucky enough to take in 2004.


•January 31, 2021 • Leave a Comment

A refined fantasy saga with compelling characters.

Beyond the Pale Blue Sun is the second in a dramatic odyssey spanning the Cerulean Universe. It has been more than a decade since A’zra was rescued and placed in stasis. The intervening years have been a time of geographic exploration and scientific development as species come together for the first time. But, inevitably, exploitation and turmoil are the byproducts of rampant ambition and greed by ruling parties. Victoria, A’zra’s long-lost partner, has never lost hope that A’zra survived the destruction of her ship so many years ago. With a lingering hope in her heart, Victoria has determined to explore the furthest reaches of the Celestial Ocean looking for her lost love. Feeling abandoned, even betrayed, A’zra begins to move on, taking charge of a life that has been out of her control for too long. Ruling bodies may have conspired to keep her stasis secret for 11 years in order to keep peace, but the truth will come to light and not worlds, but universes will collide.

If George Lucas left an unfinished manuscript and Tom Clancy had decided to finish the novel, the result might look a lot like this sophisticated and multifaceted intergalactic saga. The pages abound with complex politics and mesmerizing fantasy worlds. The wide array of species among the characters, is breathtaking. A favorite, Cetus, is like a wizened old friend. I loved the pages detailing Cetus alone with his thoughts, swimming, ruminating. This book could work alone, but is greatly enhanced if you’ve digested the first in the series. If you enjoy a refined fantasy saga with compelling characters written in eye-popping detail, then Beyond the Pale Blue Sun: Book Two in the Saga of the Cerulean Universe is the perfect book to sink your teeth into.

–Nicky Flowers, Indiestoday.com

Why The Saga of the Cerulean Universe?

•July 30, 2020 • Leave a Comment

My first two novels, Wendall’s Lullaby and Delphys Rising, were conspiracy/technothrillers with some environmental undertones. So why did I decide to jump genres and embark on the journey of writing a multi-book science fiction saga? And why, specifically, The Saga of the Cerulean Universe?

Well, part of my reason comes from the first two books. After publishing Delphys Rising I knew that wasn’t the last I was going to hear from some of the characters I’d developed. I knew there were more issues in their lives and in the world I’d created that I wanted to explore and expand. So, immediately after publishing Delphys Rising I sat and brainstormed for a few days–jotting ideas in my journal, on scraps of paper and on a legal pad.

whale and wormholeFor some reason, one line of plot ideas had me thinking about the possibility (or impossibility) of transporting dolphins and whales into space. After doing a little research on the limited lifting capacity of rockets, the potential for moving large quantities of water and the impact of gravitational forces on dolphins (who essentially live in zero gravity) that storyline died–at least until I decided to take the idea much further into the realm of science fiction.

Two silhouettes father - son

While my first two books were thrillers (and I do read a fair number of thrillers), I’ve always been a huge fan of science fiction. My dad introduced me to Edgar Rice Burroughs and H.G. Wells at an early age–a nice contrast to the reruns of the original Star Trek and the cartoon serial Star Blazers that I also absorbed in my youth. I also devoured the works of Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury and others. And, while Delphys Rising definitely has some science fiction elements and I’ve written a few short stories in the genre,  I always pictured myself writing career continuing to evolve in that direction.

Consequently, my brainstorming led me to ruminate on the following question: what if, instead of the vacuum of space, there existed an alternate universe where the “space” between planets, solar systems and other cosmic entities was filled with water? A cerulean universe awash in a celestial ocean?

front cover KINDLEI was intrigued and excited by the idea and eight months after starting seriously attacking the project, book one–Piercing the Celestial Ocean–was published. Now, I’m working hard on getting book two in The Saga of the Cerulean Universe completed and published before the end of the year.

Stay tuned for updates on my progress writing and editing Beyond the Pale Blue Sun.dwarf star in a star field


i lost MY truth

•July 27, 2020 • Leave a Comment

Bright Sun against dark starry sky in Solar System, elements of this image furnished by NASA

i lost MY truth


Solar flare.

Coronal mass ejection.

Earth awash

electromagnetic deluge.

And just like that,

my history is gone,

my truth is gone.

Everything I believed,

all that gave me comfort

in an uncomfortable world,


and disappeared.

Digital memory,

digital belonging,


Screens blank,

Mind blank.


I think a lot about the current state of the world–especially here in the United States. I think about the shouts of “fake news” and “alternative facts” and sigh over how divisive we’ve become–how insular our opinions have become.

The internet has connected the people of the world in some marvelous ways. I chat about writing with people from Illinois to India and from Scotland to Germany. But I can’t help but note how it’s also allowed people to isolate themselves–to isolate their opinions.

Differences of opinion, people who look or act or believe different things can be discomforting to some–to many. The panacea seems to be seek comfort in the reinforcement of our own beliefs–finding a niche that supports our point of view or lifestyle and increasingly existing only within that space. Excluding the other. The internet has certainly made this easier for people–to find websites, institutions, podcasts, groups or individuals that support a narrow but reassuring worldview.

I’m usually not one for looking backwards–for pining for a “simpler time”–but the other day I was trying to imagine (as fiction writers often do) how (or if) humanity could ever get to a place where facts were facts and a level of respect was given experts in a field–where the divisiveness of insular surety disappeared. In the course of that thinking, I started jotting down the phrases that became the above poem–a lament for the loss of a truth held in the comfort of someone’s digital world.

I don’t think truth (or fact) is to be found in isolation or comfort. Truth-seeking is a messy, uncomfortable business. My tact up to this point has been to encourage people to reach out and listen–to seek out opinions from media sources, individuals or groups that may make them uneasy. I especially encourage getting to know individuals and the nuances of their beliefs–which rarely fit into neat, stereotypical categories.

But, I see that plea being ignored or drowned out by those who are a part of the Great American Shout-down. So, maybe the world needs a more radical approach–or an act of nature–to elicit the needed change–the needed opening of minds. That’s what prompted this poem–i lost MY truth.

BALANCE: A Creative’s Challenge

•July 19, 2020 • Leave a Comment

I shun father and mother and wife and brother when my genius calls me. I would write on the lintels of the door-post, Whim. I hope that it is somewhat better than whim at last, but cannot spend the day in explanation.

self relianceIn his essay, Self-Reliance, Ralph Waldo Emerson, extols the virtue of dropping everything and ignoring everyone when he is feeling the flow of his creativity–the siren call of his genius. Such is the “high” most creatives get when fleeting ideas, words, images or musical notes take form–solidifying in their reality.

That feeling is hard to set aside for any creative person. Yet, the realitiesworkout of life, mean that it must happen. Today, I wanted nothing more than to dive into work on the second book in my new science fiction series. The Saga of the Cerulean Universe cannot wait! But, I also knew that if I didn’t get in some kind of workout this morning that I would not be quite right in the head all day–such is also my commitment to fitness. On top of that, I also need to take care of my financial realities. I’m not making enough money off of my books and nasm and notepadwriting (yet) to do it full-time–I still need to pay the bills. So, today I also have to set aside a portion of my quiet, alone, at-home time to do some Endeavor Racing administrative work and to study for my personal trainer certification.

Consequently, I create a schedule for my day–parceling out the hours to write, to do my bookkeeping and to study. Still, when I get to my allotted writing time, there is a risk. I’m very excited to work on my follow-up to Piercing the Celestial Ocean–and ideas and writing seem to have been exploding from my mind in past sessions. The risk is that I’ll get so caught up in what I’m doing that I “decide” to keep writing and ignore the other tasks on my list.front cover KINDLE

Hence the creative’s dilemma–when do I embrace Emerson’s whim and when do I stop  to move on to another scheduled task? It’s never easy to evaluate in that moment–to step out of the flow, stand on the shore and weigh the costs and benefits. Sometimes, if a marvelous idea is just in its infancy, I can get away with jotting some quick notes–without fully developing the thought and then jump to the next item on my list. Other times, I just need to keep going–the idea has already crystalized into words, sentences, paragraphs and pages–and I must write until my mind is emptied.

The real challenge for me is to make sure that on the days where the writing is not flowing that I do not try to force it by extending my time. On those days, I need to make sure I’m doing the other work on my list—my workouts, accounting, marketing, studying. If I can do that well, I’ll be able to allow myself a little more leeway when a writing session turns into a creative torrent.



•July 12, 2020 • Leave a Comment

front cover KINDLEThe majority of the story in my newest novel, Piercing the Celestial Ocean, takes place on the planet M’aremundi. It’s a world dominated by water–with roughly ten percent of the surface covered by land. It’s a world of island and island-chain (archipelago) nations. Because of this, the militaries of these states are dominated by navies.

Most of these navies have some type of special operations forces–commandos. The dominant archipelago in this first novel in The Saga of the Cerulean Universe is P’nesia and their elite commando units are know as the LupiMare–“sea wolves.” They are very similar to U.S. Navy SEALs except in one aspect–they do not participate in any “air operations.” In fact, none of M’aremundi’s island nations have anything remotely resembling aircraft on a technological par with their surface and submarine ships. Why?

Well, I won’t tell just yet. That’s something for you to discover while reading Piercing the Celestial Ocean or for one of my future blog posts. And once your done reading book one, you can speculate on how the LupiMare might fare in the new paradigm of book two–Beyond the Pale Blue Sun.

Pre-order Sale of My New Book!

•June 17, 2020 • Leave a Comment

Piercing the Celestial Ocean is the first book in my new science fiction/space opera series–The Saga of the Cerulean Universe–and the Kindle edition is now available for pre-order at a special low price of just 99 cents. If you are interested, I hope you’ll take advantage of the sale and leave a review once you’ve finished reading.

PTCO twitter pre order slide


Disgraced scientist, Captain Anton Ekels, seizes the opportunity for redemption he recognizes in the Endeavor’s near-collision with an alien stasis pod. Expelled from the mouth of a remote wormhole, the capsule—once taken onboard the deep space research vessel–reveals clues that the captain believes may link its female humanoid occupant to an alternate reality. A student of Earth’s space exploration history, Ekels quickly recognizes a plaque similar to that attached to the twentieth century’s Pioneer space probes–but the universe described is potentially unlike anything ever encountered by the Intragalactic Science Consortium.




Grand Master G’lea and her assistant, Master T’reau, aim their innovative celestiscope skyward and make a heretical discovery. Suppressed and warped by influential P’nesian Clerics, this startling revelation further secures the dominance of the Grand Conclave, enhances the mystery of the Heavenly Visitors and seals the fate of G’lea and T’reau.

Despite the best efforts of the Grand Conclave the legend of the Grand Master and her assistant lives on in hand-copied, forbidden books, the furtive whisperings of radical academics and the tall tales of drunken sailors on the island of Lolus.

Hundreds of years later, on this oft-denigrated island, unique circumstances unite a sea captain raised on those whispered tall tales with the estranged son of the powerful P’nesian Archcleric. Aboard the Vagus, A’zra and G’regor begin an adventure that not only challenges entrenched religious beliefs, but eventually inspires a much greater scientific leap—towards the Celestial Ocean and beyond.




Counting the Stars with Dad

•June 14, 2020 • Leave a Comment

Every year at this time (early June–between his birthday and Father’s Day), I like to republish this essay as an homage to my father.

Man looking up towards the Milky Way. Eyre Peninsula. South Australia.

The last licks of orange glow on the horizon signaled nature’s transition from day to night. Sitting on a deserted beach, on an isolated key, deep in the Everglades National Park backcountry, I watched the heavens as the stars began to appear one-by-one. Eyes darting frantically, I tried to count each star as it appeared. When stars began to emerge by the hundreds, I was quickly overwhelmed. Closing my eyes, I lay slowly on my back. After a brief visual break, I opened my eyes and tried to absorb the vastness from horizon to horizon. Usually, what floods my mind in these contemplative situations are big thoughts about my place in the world or reflections on how insignificant our tiny planet is in the cosmic scheme of things. But, what dominated my current introspection were not wispy glimpses of answers to life’s eternal questions, but clear visions of camping with my father.

Like so many young families in the early 1960s, mine had started camping as an inexpensive vacation-my mom and dad encouraged and outfitted by dad’s already camping co-workers. At one and a half years old, I was dragged along for all the fun. As the story goes, the first trip was a miraculous success-though it rained most of the two weeks and I’m told I spent most of my time in the tent in a highchair. It couldn’t have been all that bad; the Koelsch’s began a yearly ritual akin to migration that brought us to that same Lake George, New York campground each summer for nearly ten years. There
I caught my first fish (a “sunny” on a bamboo pole that we cooked in a metal Band-Aid box), paddled my first canoe (a beater of a Grumman the livery guy tried to blame dad for denting), and went on my first hike (a ranger-led scramble to the precipice of Roger’s Rock). Lake George was full of memories of the beginning of my love affair with the outdoors.

But, this evening, lying back on the sand on Pavillion Key, relaxing from a day’s kayaking, I recalled a very specific camping image of my father. Mind you, it was family-style tent camping we did at Lake George-three burner Coleman stove, big coolers, cotton sleeping bags with animal print interiors, mattresses that took half an hour to blow up, and a canvas tent that took an hour to erect once you figured out which pole went where. The drive-in campsite had the typical “Fred loves Wendy”-carved picnic table and slightly crooked grill-covered stone fireplace. It’s really just the fireplace that is important to this memory. That’s where dad would sit in a lounge chair and tend the campfire after his family was safely tucked in the tent. Several hours later I would half-hear that familiar tent zipper sound and dad would crawl in next to mom. Always being the curious type, the following morning I would ask dad what he did after we all went to bed. “Trying to count the stars,” he would say.

Two silhouettes father - son

Dad’s sitting out at night wasn’t just an occasional occurrence. It was something he would do almost every night they weren’t playing cards or socializing with other campground acquaintances. And, each morning, following my question, he would answer with the same, what some people would describe as child-like, enthusiasm: “Trying to count the stars.” Sometimes he would tell me how many he counted that evening-but, the number never really seemed to matter as much as the actual counting. The quest was not for ever truly quantifying the heavens, the quest was the unrestrained joy he found in the trying. It was his continual enthusiasm and sense of wonder that
drenched my brain on that clear night in the Everglades. And, at that moment in my memory, I felt closer to my father than I would have if he were sitting on the beach next to me.

Indian Guide HandbookBeyond our Lake George days, we spent outdoor time together through our participation in the YMCA Indian Guides program. Each of the father-son “journeys” we shared was permeated by dad’s National Geographic Magazine sense of adventure. He skillfully applied his excitement and fed my imagination in ways that made each trip even more rewarding. There was the father-son canoe trip on the Wading River in New Jersey’s Pine Barrens-where an hour of no contact with other canoes and a small “search” plane overhead added a certain “edge” to our trip. And, there was that frigid winter night hike in the Poconos that revealed several well-formed bear prints in the snow’s icy crust. We had photos from some of those trips in a box somewhere, but lying there looking at the night sky I realized that the memories and feelings I cherished the most were not captured on film. They were captured in my heart and reflected in the stars.

Those stars brought me a real gift that evening-a renewed closeness to my father and an understanding of why I could love the outdoors so much. Still lying on the beach, I broke into a appreciative smile and again began to count.

NOTE: this essay originally appeared in Canoe & Kayak Magazine.

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